As I sit here at my keyboard, I’m recovering from COVID — COVID that will prevent me from attending a family reunion that has been on the drawing board for more than a year and will bring together family members that have not seen each other in close to 20 years. Because I’m a resident of the DC Metro, my “local” news is a whirlwind of political, social, and economic bitterness. I work with nonprofit leaders around the United States, who do so much with so little to help so many. They are strung out right now. What advice can I provide about how to deal with these trying times? With humility, I offer three items.
Give your team room. Mollie West Duffy and Liz Fosslien address this in a Harvard Business Review post that was published today, aptly named “Supporting Your Team When the News is Terrible.” They note that it is important to recognize when times are tough, and they provide sound advice about how to address these issues constructively.
Take care of yourself. Nonprofit leaders often think first of those outside themselves. While admirable, this practice creates fragility — a condition Hannah Massarella refers to as “compassion fatigue.” If you are not sound and around, you can’t help others. (Yes, I recognize the irony of writing these words while recovering from COVID. I’m receiving excellent care, and the weight in my lungs provides some incentive to make this point.) Knowing that nonprofiteers tend to place others before themselves, nonprofit leaders should make a special effort to prioritize self-care for themselves and their teams.
Chop wood, carry water. Risk management is not the practice of worrying about what can go wrong. It is instead a doctrine of empowerment: interrogate the present with radical clarity, then take the next reasonable steps in response to what you see. Like the monk and the Enlightenment, we chop wood, carry water. As Renee Dubeau notes, “Chop wood, carry water reminds us to take responsibility for ourselves . . . We must learn to plan ahead, to use our resources wisely and share with others when we can. We must ask for help when we need it and trust our village to support us.” The nonprofit sector has helped countless people survive tremendous challenges. We will continue along that path.